Creative Spotlight: Haley Smith, Glass Bead Artist and Owner of BuckleBottom Beads

At The Torch with Haley SmithMuseiddity: Hi Haley, I’m so glad you could join us today!

How did you get involved in lampworking?

Haley: Oh, that’s easy. I was bored. Ha! Seriously, though. I was living in an apartment with my husband and one year old daughter, waiting for our house to be built. I felt confined in such a small space during the day, being that it was a typical, HOT Arizona summer, and spent waaaay too much time perusing Ebay and the internet for something to spark my interest. I wanted to make and sell something. While seeking that pastime, I came across beautiful lampwork beads by some very talented artists. Goodness, they were quite pricey! I found myself looking specifically at these individual pieces of art, curious as to what was under the layers of glass…. More glass!! While I examined (and drooled over) them, I came across a couple websites and forums that had tutorials and illustrations as to the HOW of making these beads. I was completely intrigued and just had to learn how on my own.

I found a gal who lived quite close to me (serendipitous!) and she gave me a two hour demonstration, allowing me to create two little, very uneven beads. I came home and bought my first bead making torch and the glass to melt!

Museiddity: What do you most love about making beads?

Haley: Like lots of gals, I love sparkly things. And colorful things. And pretty things! Glass is all of the above…..and more! Just being able to mess around with colors and combinations helps with my creative urges, but watching that glass melt into shape has almost a therapeutic feel to it. Mesmerizing. Yet, frustrating at the same time. It’s not an easy task to make that glass go in the shape you want it. Not for me, anyway. But that tension between peace and agony is what makes it fun and challenging. I can easily get swept up trying to create the perfect bead, but when I just relax and enjoy the process is when I make, what I feel are, my best beads.

Museiddity: Ahh…, I call that “going into the zone.” You obviously found your niche! What did your family think about your new fascination with fire?

Haley: I thought my husband was gonna think I was crazy! But, honestly, he’s been nothing but supportive. I’m still more of a hobbyist than a business woman, so he, uh, has been monetarily supportive, as well. He has helped me create the perfect environment for this creative outlet and makes sure I have time to create, too, seeing we have two very busy kids. My daughter, who is now 10, can’t wait to learn how to lampwork, but is satisfied with making kid-friendly jewelry with my beads. She is a budding fashionista, so I do take her advice to heart when it comes to turning my beads into wearable items. My son grew up with me already creating and playing with fire, so he doesn’t really think much of it. I just make sure I preach fire safety–all the time–because, ironically, fire is my biggest fear!

Museiddity: But you took something that frightened you and turned it into art, what a way to slay your demons! Speaking of demons, what are some of the struggles you’ve faced pursuing your creative vision?

Haley: That could be a really long answer. But I will just say TIME is the biggest struggle. Finding time, mainly. As I said, I have two busy kids and a family that comes first. I don’t have an “out-of-the-home” job to occupy my days, so then time becomes a procrastination tactic, as well. I’m not necessarily self-motivated. I almost do better in a time-crunch. Does that make sense? When the pressure is on, I make better use of my time. And then I have the problem of not enough time again. It’s a vicious cycle, I tell ya. Maybe I need a little fire UNDER me instead of in front of me!!

Also, like most artists of all kinds, the muse disappears sometimes. Occasionally, it’s for long periods. Finding that creative energy and that spark is difficult. I used to have to pretty much stop making beads in the summer because I work out of my garage. It was way too hot out there without the added heat from the torch and kiln. When that physical block is put up for months at a time, the creativity gets stunted, too. Trying to pick up in October, or whenever it would start to cool down, would be extremely difficult.

Museiddity: At least you won’t have to worry about the heat anymore now that you have that new, air conditioned studio space.

I’ve watched you grow from hobby to successful small business. What tips do you have to share with other “creatives” embarking on similar journeys?

Haley: Stick with it. Stick with what you love. Stick with finding that creative spark. If you’re doing something you love, then it won’t truly matter if you’re monetarily successful or not. Your heart will be satisfied. I don’t ever want it to feel like a job. If it starts feeling like work, then I take a step back and figure out a way to bring the heart back into it.

Museiddity: Oh, staying true to your heart really is the most important lesson. I think I need to print that response and tape it above my desk!

I have fond memories of the day you graciously spent giving me my first lampworking lesson; I keep the beads we made that day hanging in my office as inspiration (smile). For those who are considering taking up the torch, what basic tools will they need to get started?

Haley: I have to caution anyone who wants to melt glass to first look up all safety measures. There really are a lot of measures that need to take place before you can just start making beads over an open flame. I won’t go into all the details of it right now (SO IMPORTANT), but those things need to be sorted out before you even think about melting a rod of glass. Of course the first safety measure is ensuring your torch isn’t going to catch something on fire! That should be obvious. But, there are other measures that are less obvious. Things like eye protection, proper ventilation and working near fire-retardant surfaces are just the start.

But, as for the materials, you will need glass rods, a small basic lampwork-specific torch, mandrels (which are the steel rods you wrap the melted glass around) and bead release, which is a cement-like substance that keeps your beads from sticking to the mandrels. You will also need an annealing blanket so your beads don’t all crack into bits before you can get them in a kiln. All these little gems need to be kiln annealed so that they don’t break easily. Basically, you can do the simplest set up for about $100.There is a little torch called a Hot Head that attaches to Mapp gas canisters. It’s what I started with and it’s only about $35. Almost all lampworking online stores have a great kit with all the basics to get you started. I definitely recommend just buying a small starter kit.

Lampworking, although I made it seem like I just dove in headfirst, isn’t something to pursue lightly. Even with the safety requirements you can still proceed fairly inexpensively, but my recommendation is to do plenty of research before you begin to purchase anything. And my biggest tip? Take a class or get a demonstration from an experienced bead maker before you begin.

Museiddity: Great advice!

In addition to making custom order beads you also have a beautiful line of jewelry; can we share some pics of your favorite pieces?

Haley: Sure!

Beads - 045 copy   Beads - 150  Ribbon Set Beads - 326

 

 

 

Museiddity: They’re all so beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Haley.

Connect with Haley:
Store/Website: BuckleBottom Beads (www.bucklebottom.com)
Keep up with studio talk at BuckleBottom Blab (http://bucklebottom.blogspot.com)

Have you ever made glass beads? Do you have a story to share or a question for Haley? We’d love to hear from you!

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